Comment: British food deal one part of crisis solution

It was suggested this week that so much extra milk is being produced by farmers desperate to oversupply their way out of the dairy price crash that it would fill a line of tankers from London to Scotland. Perhaps some of those tankers will be heading in the direction of public buildings if Defra delivers on its latest promise?

Many farmers have borrowed their way back from the brink, or the other way, to ruin, in the last year as they registered record-breaking lending from banks totalling £17.8bn, but ultimately real, sustainable solutions are a must to release the unrelenting pressure on this battling industry.

Any new outlet for British produce therefore has to be welcomed and so it was of great encouragement to find Elizabeth Truss standing in front of thousands of farmers at the NFU’s conference in Birmingham this week announcing that an extra £400m of British food is to be served across the public sector that was formerly sourced from overseas.

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The changes will be seen at schools, hospitals, government departments and military canteens, while all 30m cartons of long-life milk served in our prisons each year will come from UK dairy herds from April. Environment Secretary Truss talked about using a Top Trumps style “scorecard” system to judge which homegrown products offer the best value for money.

A policy that Defra’s top brass agree on it seems, announced in a week when its ministers revealed they weren’t on the same wavelength when it comes to the EU referendum: Truss opting ‘In’, Farming Minister George Eustice wanting ‘Out’ and Under Secretary of State Rory Stewart yet to declare. Their divergent viewpoints seem broadly representative of a farming public that is still to make up its mind, however keen it is to make an informed decision.

Around 200 farmers packed into a Brexit debate hosted by the Future Farmers of Yorkshire group recently and it has prompted the Yorkshire Agricultural Society to stage another discussion this month, this time in Leyburn.

The NFU has warned that British farming cannot carry on in the same vein it has in recent years; taking a pummelling from global markets, but the union’s own top team have signed up for more punishment themselves following their re-election by members this week. No easy task lies ahead but farmers never have been the sort to throw in the towel.